The Treasury Interviews: Jamie interviews Helen Jacobs


About me

My name is Jamie O’Keefe. I go to Roydvale School (an awesome school).

I am 8 years old and I love rugby, sushi and swimming.

My favourite type of writing is to write about something really frightening which then turns out to be a dream or nightmare. I like to surprise whoever is reading it.

My favourite place to read is high up in my spectacular climbing tree.

My favourite books to read are Beast Quest, Hank Zipster, Willard Price adventure stories and the 13 Story Tree House series.


photo poetry reading

About Helen Jacobs (this is her pen name)

Helen Jacobs was born in Patea 1929. She came to live in Lowry Bay in 1954 and lived there and in Eastbourne for 36 years. Since 1984 six collections of her poetry have been published, the most recent being Dried Figs in 2012.  Her work has been published in many magazines and anthologies including Yellow Pencils (1988), Oxford Anthology of Love Poems (2000), Essential NZ Poems (2001), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), My Garden, My Paradise (2003), This Earth’s Deep Breathing (2007), Our Own Kind (2009), Eastbourne An Anthology (2013) and in numerous Canterbury anthologies.

Following involvement in community activities and environmental issues she was elected Mayor of Eastbourne in 1980 and appointed to the Planning Tribunal in 1986. She retired to Christchurch in 1994 where she has been active in croquet, voluntary activities, the poetry community and the Canterbury Poets Collective.


The Interview

1   How old when you wrote your first poem?

That is a bit difficult to remember, Jamie. I am 85 so it is a long time ago. I remember making up bits of rhymes at primary school but nothing was written down.   I wrote poems in my last two years at secondary school for the school magazine but haven’t copies of them. I seem to remember they were a bit gloomy. I really started to write when I was in middle age and have been writing ever since. I don’t publish everything. One of my first poems published was in Landfall 124, 1977 and was called ‘A Garden Place’.

2   How many poems have you written?

Hundreds. About seven hundred I think.

3   What is your longest poem?

Most of my poems don’t go beyond a page but of the few that do, probably ‘Burnt Hills’ is one of the longest. This was in my first collection and also in the recent anthology Eastbourne: An Anthology 2013.

4   Your favourite subject?

The subjects of my poems are quite varied so I can’t say I write about any one topic for preference although I do seem to write a lot about gardens and the environment.

5   How do you  get ideas?

From what is happening around me.  From issues that I am interested in.   I use poems sometimes to think through matters. I often write poems for friends and to record enjoyable times and I have written some poems in memory of friends. Sometimes I write for fun.

6   Your smallest poem?

This one that I wrote for my twin grandsons when they two years of age.   My friend Keith was accident prone and my grandsons thought this was hilarious.

Chip chop loppity-dee

Keith fell out of the willow tree.

Swish swash flippity-flop

Keith fell off the chimney pot.


  1. Your favourite style?

That is another difficult question. It depends on what the subject matter is what arrangement and choice of words says best what you mean.   But I don’t like poems that are obscure.

I like both rhyming and non-rhyming poems.   In non-rhyming poems there is always an underlying rhythm that is not obvious.

I am glad you like reading in a tree, Jamie.   In our garden when my children were young there was an oak tree which my daughter liked to climb into with her book.   We called it the reading tree.

Best wishes for your writing.

Elaine Jakobsson

Elaine has a terrific poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Monsters.’ She wrote it for her grandchildren.

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